Six Degrees of Donald Young
Doesn't it feel that Donald Young has been around so long that instead of Kevin Bacon there should be a six degrees of Donald Young? John McEnroe's there when DY was ten-years-old saying for the world to hear that the lefty from Atlanta had "hands like another lefty I know very well." At 15, Young wowed the entire ATP Tour becoming the youngest player ever to win a junior Grand Slam when he won the 2005 Australian Open. Then there was IMG who signed him to a mega-contract afterward, and all those ATP tournament directors who awarded him a record number of wild cards to play in their events. Nikolay Davydenko can play six degrees with DY, too, as he said after beating him in 2007 New Haven that Young had the best strokes of all the American players. Finally, there is Patrick McEnroe who felt disrespected by Young after the then 21-year-old exploded this spring, saying the USTA should've rewarded him with their wild card into the French Open.Young was contrite once PMac basically forced him into apologizing for Young's twitter faux pas. But you didn't get the impression that Young really meant it. Even after DY stuck it back into the faces of the USTA coaching staff, and PMac who was up in the ESPN broadcasting booth, by beating Jurgen Melzer and Marcos Baghdatis this week in reaching the semis of the Washington D.C. event, there was a river of discontent flowing in the Atlanta native. Look at this press interview after DY's thumping by Radek Stepanek in the semis.Q. Donald, the run you've had this week is likely to change a lot of people's expectations for you going forward. Can you talk about that, and how it changes your own expectations for yourself?Donald Young: I don't know. I hope it doesn't change. I know there's a lot of mixed feelings about me out there. I don't know if it will change anything. Some people will think it was a lucky week. Some might change, some might still feel the same, just like it's me finally getting there.And what was the end of your question, again?SBN: And how does it change your own expectations?Donald Young: No, it doesn't change. They're still what they were, and I just gotta keep moving towards that top 50, maybe top 20 by the end of the year, or the start of next year.DY is still thinking/upset about those people, some probably coaches in the USTA ranks that have worked with DY, who feel at 22 that even with his D.C. results, it's too little, too late. DY pumped his fist at his mother, his travel coach, and smiled a big cat's grin at her after beating Bag-man. In that fist-pumping there surely were the feelings, unstated but very loud under-the-surface: "Look Ma, they said we couldn't do it. All those white folks who make up the USTA coaching ranks. But they're wrong, we're right. You and me, we can do it together, just like the Williams sisters did it with Richard."And who can fault Young. The pro tennis tour is rife with racism. Ask any African-American male other than Arthur Ashe and maybe James Blake if they experienced racism on the tour and they'll tell you, "Absolutely." William Washington, Mala Vai's father, was the loudest proponent of the racism American blacks experience on tour from bad draws to bad practice balls to bad lines calls. Blake maybe has escaped most of the racism--Lleyton Hewitt claimed at a US Open that he actually benefited by his color--because he has a white mother, mostly white friends, attended Harvard and grew up in Fairfield County, Ct. But after Washington, the list of black Americans who have cracked the Top-100 stops with Chip Hooper (actually before Washington), Bryan Shelton and DY. Which in the 37 years since Ashe won Wimbledon, with all the great black athletes in this country, is a pretty-shockingly, deflated low number. Remember Levar Harper-Griffith, the rising star from Brooklyn who was supposed to be a prodigy. Yes, well, he topped out at the age of 20 with a No. 238-ranking. Marcus Fugate, who was featured along with DY in Jim Courier's documentary about rising junior American stars, he topped out at age 20 at No. 627.I see that the promising 20-year-old Sloane Stephens is being coached by former ATP pro, Roger Smith, a Bahamian. But besides Rodney Harmon, can you name even one other top black tennis coach in this country. Gael Monfils and Jo-Willy Tsonga had Yannick Noah and a much more open tennis association to guide them up into the top ranks. Who does an American black male trying to make it in big-time tennis have? Young is from Atlanta, perhaps the southern city that has the most progressive attitude towards blacks in the U.S., but he is still holding a lot of the resentment an African-American faces when attempting a pro career. What happened to the other black American male from Atlanta, who played Roddick in the first round of the US Open as a wild card, but who's name escapes me now? He also became road kill on the side of the ATP Tour highway. The USTA has to develop a great black American male player. It should be one of their moral imperatives. DY doesn't want to be that token black. He still wants to make it relatively on his own. Maybe he can use that resentment against the USTA like another white lefty used to use anger toward umpires to fuel his rise up the ranks. DY is already being referred to as that "former prodigy," but maybe it's time for him to rise into a "seasoned Top-50 player."